15 March 2010

Breaking up is hard to do

Morning church window 350 px

I broke up with my church a couple months ago. It was as filled with heartache and questioning as every one of my many, many breakups with men have been.

It took as long, too - I never break up without months and months of rumination, mulling, obsession.

In essence, I handled my church breakup in the same messed-up, immature way that I have handled the end of all of my romantic relationships: badly.

I realized a long time ago that I wasn't getting what I wanted from my church. It started when I became a board member. Unfortunately, I got a peek at the man behind the curtain and found out it wasn't The Great Oz back there.

My first issue was with the church tithe. As a church, we take a collection and then give a tithe of 10 percent of all we take in. Fairly standard.

At my old church, the board voted every month on which community organizations or larger non-profits received the tithe. At this church, the pastor decided how to tithe to "our spiritual sources." Meaning we gave money to other churches and speakers that inspired us. Some of them were churches that were run by friends and relatives. Some of them donated their tithe back to us.

That just didn't pass the sniff test with me. I brought it up to the pastor but got shot down. That's the way we do it, she said.

Also, I never fit in on the board. I'm not a team player and never have been, but I really tried. It just seemed that I was always saying or doing the wrong thing or asking the wrong question at the wrong time.

You know how it is? When you feel like you just don't fit and there is nothing you can do to make it right? I was the proverbial square peg.

My feelings really got hurt last year, though, when Curt died. I had to miss a board meeting to go to his memorial service and I let the rest of the board know where I was going and why.

Silence. Members of my board, my church board, didn't send one email or make one phone call of condolence or even acknowledgment.

Meanwhile, I posted about what was going on. I got comments, emails, tweets, phone calls. My online friends reached out and offered comfort, help, a listening ear, a place to stay if I wanted to get away. The irony did not escape me - people I had never met in person were kinder to me than my "church family."

I sent another email where I mentioned what had happened and how upsetting it had been. I got just one response - from a woman who isn't on the board anymore but who is still on the email list.

It really broke my heart. I took a giant step back. I did what I do in every relationship where I feel disrespected and unloved: I checked out. Blanked out. Cut my emotional ties.

I guess I could have said "Hey, you really hurt my feelings when you didn't acknowledge that I had lost someone," but that would have been entirely too mature and healthy.

So I had a dilemma. It was the end of February and my board term didn't end 'til December. I didn't feel like I could quit. So I slogged it out the rest of the year, barely showing up and putting forth the most minimal, grudging effort.

I don't know if anyone noticed or cared. If they did, they didn't say anything.

This is another of my sick-head patterns, too. I feel like I have some obligation where I can't get out, so I just go through the motions until the exit door opens and I leap out quickly.

But it's also one of my former church's sick-head patterns - you can flake out as badly as you want and everyone just tiptoes around pretending it never happened.

The annual member meeting, my last responsibility, was on January 10.

The Haiti earthquake happened two days later and it hurt my heart. I think when a great tragedy happens, the whole world feels the pain, and I felt awful for the people of Haiti. The next Sunday I went to church, hoping that we would spend some time praying and healing together.

Not a word. Not a word about Haiti. Not a prayer, not a song. The message that Sunday prominently featured something about the movie "Psycho." It was supposed to be funny. I just sat there, listening everyone else laugh at the funny story, feeling the air grow still and icy around me. I knew that was the last time. I knew the exit door was wide open and I had to go.

The next week I went down the street to the other wacky new-agey church. I walked in late and they were talking about the concert they were putting on for Haiti. Then they talked about how they have a "circle of caring" to help members who need meals, visits, rides to the doctor or other help. I checked into how they use their tithe, and it goes to non-profits who help people in the community.

I sat down. I got comfortable. I think I might stay for a while.


Kizz said...

I think, regarding Curt's passing, that speaking up wouldn't have helped or changed anything. That experience showed you exactly what sort of people you were surrounded by and your best recourse was to extract yourself. Well done!

Schmutzie said...

It's such a huge move in some ways, but I'm glad you did. I had to make a similar decision, and I've felt lighter ever since.

Average Jane said...

It sounds like you definitely made the right decision. Here's hoping you find what you're looking for at your new church.

dede said...

Hey Suebob, it's me, the original Invisible Woman who doesn't fit in either. Welcome to the party. All my good vibes are pointing right at you, Sistah. It's good to finally feel the sun on your face and in your bones, yes?


daysgoby said...

I'm so sorry you felt alone and small.

I know those feelings, and there isn't any best way to get out of them. And it sounds like your new church is going to be more of what you need.

Working Girl said...

I know I've commented about this before. I was raised in that church you left. By a minister. One who may have spoken at your church. Probably the very minister who inspired the change in your church's tithing practice. Any sorrow or lack that I felt growing up was either invisible or a result of my own flawed consciousness. I didn't get the toy sewing machine I wanted for Christmas in the third grade because I wasn't able to "manifest it for myself." I'm glad you've found another church that you may be able to call home. I won't ever try. The one I was raised in has almost cost me my life on more than one occasion and after hospitalizations,medications, therapy, I've come to realize that I am broken in ways that won't be fixed in this lifetime.

I just feel so vindicated when you write about this - that an intelligent, compassionate person that I've never met has come to the same conclusion about that church as I did. Because those "problems" that you speak of -- lack of compassion toward community members or the world at large -- those are really denominational ideals, and not unique to your church.

meno said...

I'm pretty stunned that those people, supposedly gathered together in spirituality, would treat you like that.

Good choice to leave.

mar said...

that's pretty much how i react when not acknowledged because i just don't fit in. and i felt so cozy and like i fit hanging out with you and suzanne at blogher. that's how i knew s was the one; i fit right in.
i'm glad you got out, but so sorry it took so long. those last few months, with curt and then finally the reaction to haiti, only confirms what you already knew. and even if the new church isn't where you settle down, you'll find a better fit.

mayberry said...

The same thing happened to me after 9/11. My instinct was to go to church and there was barely a nod. It was really disappointing.

I'm glad you found a friendlier, better place.

Ericka said...

that's how my current workplace is. i've never had to exist someplace so toxic for so long, and i'm having to battle to stay me instead of turn into the backstabbing ethical void that they want me to be. it's tough, and with any luck, this will remain my worst mistake.

i'm glad you escaped though! i hope the new place fulfills its early promise.

lagata said...

I'm so glad that you were able to escape :o|

and so very glad that you found a new spiritual home :o)

Sister Wolf said...

Wow. This must have been really traumatic for you. You made the right decision, obviously.

It's hard to deal with such wrenching disappointment; that's why it takes you so long to admit it when it happens. This is normal. Not a defect you have.

I'm glad we're friends, xo

Joe Crawford (artlung) said...

Man, that sounds hard all around.

I never was successful at getting "community" from my own church, probably that's why I kept/keep it at a distance. I got more "community" from recovery-type groups.

It is awesome for you to have the courage to make the break, regardless of how deliberative (read: slow) you think you were about doing it. Go out there and find that church where you get the spiritual sustenance and community you need.

Gretchen said...

I had a similar experience with my office (where I've worked for 11 years) recently when my dad died. We delayed the funeral and I went to work in between, told people, in person, what was going on, and they did...... nothing. Except an obvious afterthought when they realized they screwed up. Really tells you what kind of people you have around you.

susanbuchanan2 said...

people do act in some strange ways. but, Sue please don't be so hard on yourself. you are a celebration! enjoy the party and take care.

VDog said...

Good for you, hon. xoxo

mdog said...

ahh. "breaking up" with a church.

it sucks.

i'm sorry.

but hopefully, as mar said, you will find another place to fit in. it can happen, perhaps even in a group/denomination you never expected. and it can be healthy. and you can learn to trust again. just give yourself a little time...

Stephanie said...

I left after my wedding, knowing it would be my last connection to that faith. I wanted it to be a positive, pleasant experience and I didn't want to have (any more) terribleness drive me away. It was a good choice for me.

If there's something you can do 100% on your own via the church (a donation, volunteering, something), it might be worth going back if just for a single day to cleanse the palate. If not, it's still the best thing to do, given your experience. That's not a church; it's a clique.

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